Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

As Red River crests, a tiny slice of border will dissolve

A road is closed due to high water in the Qu'Appelle Valley northwest of Regina.

Roy Antal/The Canadian Press

In about a week, a tiny slice of the border separating Canada and the United States will become irrelevant. Canadians will be able to leave Manitoba and freely enter Minnesota - no passports, no border guards, no questions.

The rules will evaporate as the Red River crests. When it does, residents in Emerson, Man., will be working to protect their village, as well as their neighbours in Noyes, an American hamlet consisting of about 10 homes that sits inside one of Emerson's protective dikes. Its volunteer fire department is in charge of patrolling and repairing the permanent berm during floods, and when a state of emergency is declared, border restrictions between Emerson and Noyes dissolve.

"We're kind of proud that we are able protect these people," said Wayne Arseny, Emerson's mayor of about 16 years. "Because, otherwise they would be far from any land - there's quite a bit of water that separates them from the closest high ground."

Story continues below advertisement

Flooding is already washing over parts Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Numerous highways have been closed, some areas have evacuated, and others have already declared states of emergency.

This all comes before the Manitoba's Red River and Assiniboine River crest - and the pair is threatening to do so at the same time. In Saskatchewan, there's more water to flow into Qu'Appelle River from Wascana Creek, which has yet to peak. Thick snow packs, continued rain and snow, and a landscape that remains saturated from precipitation last year are making for an especially dangerous combination.

Crews in Manitoba are working to build dikes higher along the Assiniboine River, after water began spilling over the top. Steve Topping with Manitoba Water Stewardship says the dikes upstream from Winnipeg were built over and above 1976 levels, which was the flood of record on the river, but he says the crest that year was ice-free. An ice jam this time around is making the levels higher, but the dike hasn't been breached.

Officials in Manitoba pay particular attention to Emerson, which has electronic monitoring stations in the river and has its emergency plan ready to go. The Red River bisects the town, which means separate dikes are needed on both sides of the waterway to protect the 750 people that live there. Emerson is the first town the Red River reaches in Canada, and its dikes, at their highest, stretch seven metres. They were built around 1966, and measure 30 metres at their widest.

"When the water crosses, the rest of Manitoba basically looks to Emerson to see exactly how bad it is here and then they can gauge what to expect in the next couple of days as it heads toward Winnipeg," Mr. Arseny said.

In Manitoba, the span of flooding has been labelled unprecedented, and the height of flooding could near record levels in Western Canada.

Mr. Arseny, who has been regularly checking the integrity of Emerson's dikes, hopes that the 2011 flood will, as currently forecast, stay just a smidge below the record-setting level of 1997.

Story continues below advertisement

In Emerson, the Red River is expected to peak around 240.8 metres above sea level this year, down from 241 metres in 1997, he said.

"It only sounds like two feet, but it is still a lot of water," Mr. Arseny said. "It is just as dangerously close to the top as it was in 1997."

With a report from The Canadian Press

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to